09/26/2007 12:02AM

Mother of All Weekends

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If you start mapping out all of this weekend's stakes races and Breeders' Cup preps now, and don't do much sleeping the rest of the week, you just might be tied on by Saturday. There are 49 stakes races across the country that day, 23 of them worth $100,000 or more, including three Grade 1's: The Flower Bowl at Belmont and the Goodwood and Yellow Ribbon at Oak Tree. Sunday's slate is shorter but at least as crucial, with five Grade 1 events: the Jockey Cluib Gold Cup, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, Beldame and Vosburgh at Belmont, and the Norfolk at Oak Tree.

There are races leading to all eight -- oops, make that 11 -- Breeders' Cup races at Monmouth Oct. 26-27, but the two marquee showdowns this weekend involve four of the five current favorites for the Classic (the fifth is Any Given Saturday, who won the Brooklyn last Saturday): Street Sense vs. Hard Spun in the Kentucky Cup Classic Saturday, and Lawyer Ron vs. Curlin in the Jockey Club Gold Cup Sunday.

As Marty McGee points out in Thursday's DRF, the rematch between the top two finishers in the Kentucky Derby may well be misleading. In European antepost betting, Street Sense is 5-1 for the Classic with Hard Spun between 15-1 and 20-1, but the two are likely to be very close together in the Kentucky Cup betting because almost everything about the prep favors Hard Spun -- the shorter distance, the Polytrack surface, and a probable small field otherwise devoid of other top-class early speed. Add in trainer Carl Nafzger's repeated history of having Street Sense less than fully cranked up for these preps (his Breeders' Futurity before the Juvenile last fall, his Blue Grass before the Derby, his Jim Dandy before the Travers), and it's not crazy to say that Hard Spun should be the favorite Saturday -- and that even if he beats Street Sense, he should still be twice his price in the Classic.

If Hard Spun does not win Saturday, it's difficult to see why he would even run in the Classic. Unless he turns into a new horse in the next five weeks, Hard Spun has done nothing to suggest he can beat the nation's top horses going 10 furlongs, having been passed by Street Sense in the Derby, Street Sense and Curlin in the Preakness, and Any Given Saturday in the Haskell. He seems much better suited to the new BC Dirt Mile (being run at a mile and 70 yards this year) or even the BC Sprint, but with a Grade 1 sprinting win already under his girth, his handlers seem determined to go long again.

Lawyer Ron, the 3-1 favorite in Classic futures, will be heavily favored in the Gold Cup, not only because of his two smahing triumphs at Saratoga in the Whitney and Woodward but also because Curlin has been idle since the Haskell Aug. 8, a race in which he was almost alarmingly flat with no apparent excuse. While there are minor concerns about whether Lawyer Ron will be as effective at 10 furlongs at Belmont as he was in his two nine-furlong blowouts at Saratoga, there's a larger concern as to whether Curlin is the same colt he was this spring.

All six graded stakes at Belmont this weekend appear to have a standout favorite: Flower Bowl (Wait a While), Kelso (After Market), Gold Cup (Lawyer Ron), Turf Classic (English Channel), Beldame (Ginger Punch) and Vosburgh (Discreet Cat).

--I'm trying not to dwell on the mess I made of Sunday's Belmont couble-carryover, but since commenters yuwipi and wpb asked, here was how I A-B-C'ed the sequence (winners in bold):

Race 5---A:1 B:5,10 C:3,8
Race 6---A:6,10 B:1 C:2,9
Race 7---A:8,11 B:2,6,9 C:3,5
Race 8---A:1 B:4,5
Race 9---A:7 B:1 C:2
Race 10--A: 1,11 B:3 C:4,5

It happens: The dreaded 4A-1B-1C result, when you need either 4 A's and 2 B's or five A's and one C. Once Dressed to Win lost the opener, my C's were dead, and as noted earlier, I somehow managed to omit third choice Giveityourbest shot (#3 in race 7) from my array of five A's and B's in that race.

--Reminder: If you want to play the Belmont SHOWdown, the popular 20-day show-parlay contest with a $10 entry fee, it starts Wednesday and you have to be signed up by 12:30 p.m. Be prepared to fork over your sawbuck by e-check; credit cards are no longer accepted, as one player learned when he got the following response from NYRA:

Gamblingban
"In the past we used credit card funding, which was a much easier
process. Unfortunately a law was passed which states that credit cards
can no longer be used to fund a gambling related item. That is why the
poker websites can no longer accept credit cards either.

We wish you all the best in our contest which begins on Wednesday,
September 26th. Daily selection must be in by 12:45 pm.

Regards,
NYRA SHOWdown"

The good news, perhaps, is that if you can use an e-check to pay for the ShowDOWN, perhaps the day is not far off when the same option will be available to NYRA Rewards account-holders, who currently get a "Funding options are coming soon!" message if they try to put money into their betting accounts electronically.

As a "vendor or supplier" of NYRA, I'm not eligible to play in the SHOWdown. But let's see how long I can last on a mythical basis, with one unnecessary hurdle to keep it a little more interesting: No morning-line favorites allowed. Our Day 1 selection to run 3rd or better: Altesse, the 2-1 second choice in race 3. She's not as good as favored Pool Land on her best day, but Pool Land is no cinch, having been sidelined since finishing 9th in the BC Distaff last November, and Altesse looks best of the rest.